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Stick the Landing: Using Change Management to Secure Long-Term Benefits of Initiatives

After a long, hard-fought implementation, you and your team celebrated a successful project completion. The new system promised to reduce costs and provide you with new insights that give your company a competitive advantage in the market. A few months after ending the project, your employees are back to the old way of doing things and finding ways to work around the new system. What happened?

Common reasons behind backsliding are:

  • People’s personal preference with nothing stopping them
  • Their reward structure better aligns to the old way
  • They are confused on why or how to embrace the new initiative

The benefit of new initiatives is always built on the premise that people will participate in the new way of doing things. Effective change management during implementation is focused on readying your workforce for Day One of the new initiative. There is a collective sense of accomplishment at the end, but the change journey has just begun. Now you have to make it stick.

It is important to fully establish the change as the new way to do business by meeting three key objectives.

  • Sunset legacy systems and processes. It might sound obvious, but often enough employees are living in two environments, which leads them to work in the one that they are more familiar with.
  • Show your employees what’s in it for them. Update your employee incentives and goals to support behaviors aligned with the new initiative.
  • Measure and course correct. Give yourself a way to know if people are starting to backslide, such as through a monitoring system or surveys, and have a plan to reverse it.

The long-term success of your company depends on strategic initiatives quickly taking root in order to reap the benefits. However, competing initiatives can sometimes derail that effort. The first reason why employees work around a new system is because it is easier not to change. There is a learning curve and a sense of uncertainty with a new system that must be overcome. As a leader, you need to create a safe environment where people can make mistakes as they learn the new system. Also, make sure to celebrate progress. Make it clear that what is most important to the company is to transition.

Also remember that there is an entire ecosystem that the old way of doing the tasks. It is not enough to develop a new system in a vacuum; you need to update training, onboarding procedures, documentation, any upstream and downstream processes, and maybe even your office culture to reorient allow your team to focus on the new ecosystem. Furthermore, this is an opportunity to evaluate what is working with the new initiative and what is not and to make necessary adjustments.

People often work around a new initiative when their goals do not align with it. If the company’s initiative is for quality, but incentives are built around speed, the logical result is a hastily-built and defect-prone product. Revise employee performance criteria to align to the expectations of the new initiative. Rewards systems offering financial incentives or public recognition are other great ways to help nudge employees to true north. Most importantly, listen to your people and adjust where reasonable to make it easy for them to do what’s in the company’s best interest.

Early information gained from key performance indicators will help you know where the adoption is firmly anchored and where you need to intervene. For an IT system, you might be able to check meta data, for employee engagement it might be an all-employee survey. There are even advanced methods such as sentiment analysis to tell you how an initiative is doing. The point is that a part of your change management plan needs to be how you will monitor for backslide and an intervention plan to turn it around.

At Collective Insights, we see the importance of change management going well beyond adoption of the change. We’ve successfully applied these methods at Fortune 500 companies for cultural redesigns, IT system implementation, and organizational divestitures. There is one last push after cutover to create sustainability of the change. Unfortunately, companies often skip this step only to see their initiative come crashing down. We partner with our clients beyond implementation to help ensure enduring success of their initiatives long after we’ve concluded our work.